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How to Plan a Successful Intervention

When planning an addiction intervention for a loved one, it is important to have a treatment plan in place that the person can immediately begin. Once you have convinced them to get the help they need, no time should be wasted in starting a rehab program at a reputable facility. If you have tried to help a loved one in the past but have been unsuccessful, do not lose heart. Sometimes, it takes a few tries for someone to realize that they need treatment.

Recognizing Substance Abuse

Many experts agree that it is better to seek alcohol and drug intervention programs for an addiction as early as possible. The signs of a loved one being addicted can be subtle and easily missed. They all boil down to the simple fact that if someone is suffering in any way from the use of alcohol or drugs but still is actively seeking to use them, then they are addicted to them. This could mean something as blatantly obvious as losing a job or doing very poorly in school in subjects that were previously excelled in because of being constantly hung over or high.1

If a loved one’s behavior has changed immensely, it is also a sign of a possible problem with drug or alcohol use and the need for an addiction intervention. For example, someone with a usually laid-back personality suddenly changes to an aggressive one, or a person who is known to be outgoing turns into a quiet recluse. Any major change in someone you love could indicate a deeper issue, even if you have never personally seen them abusing a substance in the past.


Alcohol and drug abuse are defined as patterns of drinking or using drugs (prescription and illicit) that result in harm to a person’s health, well-being, relationships, and productivity. A person who abuses drugs and alcohol is not necessarily an addict. However, abusing these substances is a risk factor for developing an addiction because continuous use can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Read More

Other times, addictions are not so easy to spot. Marriage troubles because of fights over money that is mysteriously unaccounted for every month, or lack of interest in social activities that were once enjoyed, are other signs that someone may be suffering from an addiction. A radical change in appearance can be another indication that an addiction intervention may be needed. If someone who has always taken pride in their appearance, for example, suddenly stops taking care of basic hygiene needs, such as showering or grooming, they may have an addiction. In addition, extreme weight loss or appetite loss are other clues that someone may be suffering with one.

Also, look at yourself for signs that it may be time to look for outside help. If you are spending a lot of time, energy, and money trying to help a loved one because of their tendency to spend funds on alcohol or drugs, rather than bills, it may be time to seek some assistance on how to regain control of your own life by helping your loved one regain control over theirs.

Finding an Interventionist

Ask about local rehab facilities that can help you begin to plan a successful addiction intervention or research professional interventionists online, looking for ones with the best reviews or references. Do not feel as though you are betraying your loved one or giving up on them by asking for professional help. In fact, you are doing the best thing that you possibly can in this situation. By intervening, you are actually offering a path of hope that may not have existed previously.

Interventionists are experts who have specifically trained to help families and friends plan and stage interventions to get a loved one into treatment. They help to relieve the anxiety and fear that you may face when planning one by guiding you through the process. They are also there to help encourage you every step of the way and to let you know when you may be getting off track. A successful intervention hinges on the idea that your loved one needs to understand that they need help now and that you are willing to do anything to get that help for them.

Talking to a professional before you attempt an intervention will give you the tools that you need to succeed at helping your loved one choose to enter treatment. The Mayo Clinic recommends that someone planning an addiction intervention should consult with professionals in the field—interventionists, medical doctors, psychologists—to help all the participants understand the specifics involved in an intervention.2

The Importance of Planning

Interventionists can help you with all of the pre-planning stages. Each person who is going to be involved has to be fully prepared for the meeting. One strategy is to have everyone write down how the loved one’s addiction has changed their lives. Sometimes, getting someone to see that their behavior has affected lives other than their own can convince them to seek help. Often, an addict cannot see outside of their own issues and this other perspective can help.

The next step in planning a successful addiction intervention is sometimes the hardest. This is where interventionists can be extremely helpful. Everyone must decide what consequences there will be if the loved one refuses to take part in any of the alcohol and drug intervention programs that are in place for treatment. This tough-love approach is made up of a delicate balance between letting the addicted person know that you love them enough to stop aiding the addiction, while reinforcing the fact that you are there to help them recover from it.

During the Intervention

At a predetermined place and time, the addicted loved one is invited to the intervention, which is now preferred over the surprise or ambush method. Once there, they sit with all of the participants who will share their concerns, everyone reading what they have written for the loved one. They need to hear specific examples of how the addiction has caused pain in the lives of everyone who is involved with the intervention, along with their concerns about what will happen to their loved one if they continue in their addiction. Every letter should include what that person is going to do or stop doing, setting healthy boundaries. If the loved one does not accept the help that is offered then everyone must stand by their decisions, whether it means cutting off any financial assistance or even stopping visits with other family members. If the loved one leaves the meeting and refuses the treatment plan, interventionists can help assist with the next steps that are involved.

Can You Force Someone Into Rehab?

Technically, if the person is younger than 18, you can insist they go. However, it is better if they can agree to it on some level. People older than 18 cannot be forced into treatment, however, so it is important to identify  some sort of personal motivation they might have for getting help.

Still, it’s important to note that a person does not need to enter treatment voluntarily for it to be effective. The therapeutic techniques they receive while in a rehab center can still help a great deal in a person’s journey toward recovery.3

What Happens Next?

Whether or not the intervention attempt was immediately successful, everyone involved may need professional help to stay on track. If your loved one agrees to go to the alcohol or drug intervention program that you have arranged, it is imperative that they are brought to one immediately. Arranging transportation there should be part of the intervention preparation. The rest of the group should be counseled on what may follow in the next few hours, days, and weeks. You must discuss the possibility of phone calls, letters, and other forms of communication that beg you to remove your loved one from the program. Counselors are able to help you learn how to deal with these first moments of trying to bargain a way out. Rest assured that your loved one is where they need to be in order to get healthy. It is the safest place for that process to happen.

If your loved one has refused help, professional counseling may also be needed to learn how to stay firm regarding the consequences that you had agreed had to happen. For example, if your loved one shows up at your door in a week begging for money, you have to be strong enough to offer a ride to the treatment center but refuse to hand over any money. Staying firm during this process is what will eventually show your loved one that you are serious about the deal. Eventually, they may begin to realize that the only option is to agree to the addiction intervention plan that you have offered.

This can be emotionally difficult for family members, however, so it’s important to know that it’s perfectly normal to feel a full range of emotions during this time. From anger to frustration to guilt and even grief, all of your feelings are completely valid. It is a great help to have an individual therapist you can speak to about your experience during this time to help you process your emotions and provide you with tools to handle a difficult time well.

If your loved one has voluntarily checked into a treatment facility, it may be possible for them to walk out the next day. If this happens, you must not buy into the argument that at least they tried it; you cannot fall back into the old patterns of enabling an addiction. Interventionists can help you be prepared for this possibility and offer you solutions on how to lovingly but firmly deal with it. You may be able to convince your loved one that they need to give the facility a real chance before giving up on it again. Offer to drive your loved one back so you can be there to support the decision to sign back in.

The Path to Recovery

The recovery period is not the same for everyone, since it depends on the length and severity of an addiction. Everyone who is personally involved in an addicted person’s life will need to make adjustments and modifications too. Complete lifestyle changes may be needed to help a loved one stay sober and healthy, even after successfully completing an alcohol or drug intervention programs. There are programs available for every type of addiction—those for addicted people themselves and those for their loved ones.

During a loved one’s treatment program, you will have the opportunity to gain more knowledge and insight into the nature of addiction than you have ever thought possible. Certified counselors and other experts will give you the tools you need to help your loved one recover from the disease and stay sober. These professionals will walk you through many different types of situations that may arise after the first step of treatment is successfully completed. And you can get advice from other participants who have been in the same position that you are in through peer support groups, such as Alanon. You can learn to access all of the coping strategies that have worked for others and understand the common misconceptions to avoid when it comes to addiction intervention.


  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
  2. Mayo Clinic. (2017). Intervention: Help a loved one overcome addiction.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-based Guide (Third Edition).